Massachusetts the Next State to Legalize Sports Betting?

Massachusetts the Next State to Legalize Sports Betting?
An American flag flies over the Fenway Park grandstand in Boston, Massachusetts. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images/AFP

The legalization of sports betting in the state of Massachusetts has seen its share of twists and turns the last few months. Last November, the subject was punted down the road when the state Senate declined to add sports betting to its fiscal 2021 budget proposal for the second time. Last week came news of some renewed optimism that the state would see a strong move toward legalization in the first quarter of 2021.

There is no shortage of reasons for citizens of Massachusetts to expect a legal sports betting platform in their state sooner rather than later. A need for state revenue in this time of COVID-19 and the fact that neighboring New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania already take legal sports bets with Connecticut soon to follow are all reasons that legislator and regulators are increasingly focused on getting something done for Massachusetts in the next few months.

“Sports betting in Massachusetts isn’t new – it’s alive and well and has been for quite some time,” Sen. Brendan Crighton, top legal sports betting advocate said. “… I think it’s time for a change and I do believe we’re headed in that direction.”

The Potential Massachusetts Market

Massachusetts boasts one of the more rabid sport fanbases in the US. Along with the NFL’s New England Patriots, who have not been shy about their support of a legal sports betting platform. Massachusetts is home to the Boston Celtics of the NBA, MLB’s Boston Red Sox and the Boston Bruins of the NHL.

It all adds up to the potential for Massachusetts to have one of the most lucrative per capita sports betting markets in the country. Massachusetts sports betting market estimates have between $20 million to $35 million in annual revenues being generated, which would significantly bolster drained state and local tax coffers in the state, especially at the tax rate that is being proposed.

What Is Being Done to Push This Optimism

Massachusetts lawmakers have quietly been working on new draft legislation to make the potential platform more attractive to those who are still unsure about the viability of legal sports betting in the state.

Senator Crighton and his team have increased the application fee from $1 million to $10 million, they have identified a 15% tax rate and they have amended the college team betting concerns of Gov. Charlie Baker and propose a ban on wagers for Massachusetts college programs.

Crighton and his backers are trying to provide some red meat to everybody involved in the legalization process by making the potential platform more attractive even for its most ardent opponents.

“I am interested in hearing other folks’ perception on it but I feel like our model is pretty straightforward,” Crighton said.

No Shortage of Support

Penn National and Wynn, two of the current brick-and-mortar facilities in the state may have highlighted the need to get something done quickly when they said in a joint statement:

“Sports wagering expansion by our neighboring states substantially affects the competitive posture of the gaming industry here in the Commonwealth and places us at a strong disadvantage, with Massachusetts jobs, revenues, and economic activity at stake”.

A host of state legislators are on board with legalized sports betting for Massachusetts as are the all of the pro sports teams that call Massachusetts home including Bruins, Celtics, Patriots, Revolution and Red Sox.

“There are a lot of powerful forces that want to see it happen in Massachusetts,” Daniel Wallach, founder of the University of New Hampshire School of Law Sports Wagering and Integrity Program said. “The professional sports teams badly want to see it happen, and the casino industry could use the boost.”

Most, if not all of the biggest sports betting providers have also signaled that they are excited to enter the Massachusetts market and make a “go” of potentially one of the most lucrative sports betting markets left in the US scene.

So… What’s Next

The 2020 Massachusetts legislative session just ended last week. It will take some time after recess before everything is running at full speed once again in the state capitol.

Once there, it is anyone’s guess what happens. After all, the last kick at the can passed 156-3 in the House this past summer only to be held up in the state Senate.

But “We’re in the 8th inning,” Daniel Wallach said. “I’ve heard nothing to suggest this will be derailed,” he added, when speaking on rumors that Q1 of this year will see legal sports betting come to fruition in the state.

Massachusetts will be under the legal sports betting industry microscope in 2021 as social programs in the state, pro sports teams and service providers wait on what could potentially be a major financial windfall for all involved.